It was the summer of 1980. I’d read Robert Ringer and John Pugsley books on surviving coming economic collapses. Both taught how you should prepare yourself for such events. In another year I would finish graduate school and start living the 9 to 5 dream. Ha! So this summer it was time to do a little survival training and think on these things. I decided to hike part of the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smoky Mountains. Being a minimalist anyway and having read much of H. David Thoreau and about a Greek philosopher, Diogenes, I wanted to carry as little as possible on my hike and adventure into the wild.
Thoreau said: “When it is time to die, let us not discover that we never lived.” and “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Diogenes wanted to live simply, thinking too many “things” gets in the way of happiness and causes stress and worry. He got rid of most of his possessions except a cup to drink from. One day he saw an old woman drinking water from a stream with her hands. So Diogenes threw away his cup.
I truly believed that living simply brings some of the happiest times too, and not acquiring a new car and a bigger house than the Jones’s have, can bring this about. Not wanting to go the grave, discovering I’d never lived, I hit the trail with an 18 pound Wilderness Bug Out Bag (BOB). (It is nice to always have one of these in your car or truck)
Included were my Swiss Army Knife and a fixed blade knife. (Today I would opt to include a Tom Brown Jr. Tracker and the Leatherman Wave)
Other items included a 4 pound sleeping bag, water purification tablets, a tarp (to replace a heavy tent), one change of clothes, multivitamins, 1 roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, a few First Aid items, 50 pound fishing line, a two quart wine flask for water, 4 butane lighters (good to share or for trade), some 7 grain cereal (nutrition rich food is vital), peanut butter, raisins, beef jerky (extra beef jerky to share with new friends along the way, which I did), pemmican, a few packs of freeze dried food and an extra pair of running shoes…and a tin Diogenes cup.
Hiking 12 miles the first day, at a speed of 4 mph, there was a lot more day left than what I’d anticipated. Seemed there were only two things to do in the day… eat and hike…ok, three. Find water. It is always good to have your own source of good water. The eating took 30 minutes at the most, including preparation. Water was plentiful, crossing streams or hiking nearby them.
I’d done about 20 fasts in my life. And the biggest thing I’d learned, was that a person can go for many days without food. I’d gone 20 days on only juice and 5 days on water only. So I’d found one doesn’t have to panic, in thinking they’ll die if they go without food. Most of the hunger leaves after 3 or 4 days and you’re left with only an empty feeling in your stomach…slightly different than being hungry. But you can do without food. In a survival situation, this is very important. It depends on how active you are. At times you will feel weak, but at times you will feel like you’ve got extra lightness and energy. But the knowledge that you can make it and go without food, gives you confidence. The more you practice it, (going without food) the more confident you get. It gives the body a rest from digestion, cleans the body out and you’ll live longer too.
Water of course is another matter. You need water. That’s why water and shelter are your two major concerns and sometimes fire. I drank about 6-8 quarts a day. A time or two, I wished I’d had a firearm. There were bears around and who knows what other unforeseen critters out to do harm. “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” My personal choice would be a .44 Magnum revolver, with special as well as magnum loads. It’s great for home defense as well as more serious circumstances. If I had to live and defend myself from special situations and long distance threats, it would include a .308 M1A or 30-06 [M1 Garand], with lots of ammo.
In the morning I discovered why they called them the Smoky Mountains. The fog enveloped the mountains. The second day I paced myself better, hiking at three mph and enjoying more of the scenery. And having plenty of time to ponder, realized that one should enjoy the scenery in life. So what if I fell off a cliff or got eaten by a bear. I’d gone out living and enjoying life, not being in constant worry every day about possessions, politicians, other nee’r-do-wells, nor all the bad news on CNN. Being prepared, good friends/companionship, living simply and enjoying the moment. All this made life good and brought happiness.
I finished the 50 mile hike in five days, and gained a lifetime of appreciation and wisdom from it. A several day hike or campout is an absolute priceless way to learn about simple living, preparation and survival. – Albert J.
JWR Adds: Going “ultralight” when backpacking is perhaps viable in warm summer weather and at low elevation, but it is a foolhardy risk at any other time of the year . Even in summer, hypothermia is a risk if you get soaked by a downpour. Always bring a poncho and at least a small lightweight tent. Also, note that Giardia is endemic in streams and ponds throughout North America, so it is essential to carry a top quality water filter (such as a Katadyn pocket filter) or a chemical water treatment such as Polar Pure. Both of these options are compact and lightweight. And both, BTW, are available from Ready Made Resources.